When the lies are finally exposed in Battle of the Atom, the mystery gives way to an emotional, albeit lopsided battle.
X-men #6Publisher: Marvel
Writer: Brian Wood, David Lopez
Publication Date: 2013-12
What happens to criminals and con-men when their lies are finally exposed? The Bernie Madoff’s of the world know that their options are limited. People don’t like being lied to. Whether it involves their stock portfolio or who ate the last piece of cake, these deceivers can expect strong reactions from those they’ve deceived. When those people happen to be the X-men, those strong reactions usually manifest in something strong enough decimate an army of Sentinels. Like everyone else, the X-men get pretty upset when they find out that they have been lied to. When the deceivers happen to be future versions of the X-men, the impact is much greater than any Sentinel army.
In X-men #6, the truth is finally revealed. The future X-men, who were revealed to be phony in All New X-men #17, carry themselves like con-men who know the authorities are chasing them, but try to maintain their poise and their charm amongst their victims. They successfully convinced the teenage Cyclops and Jean Grey to go back to the past. They’re on the cusp of succeeding before their lies can be exposed. Like a criminal about to board a flight to a country with no extradition laws, they seem to have everything under control.
But throughout "X-men Battle of the Atom", some have expressed suspicion about these future X-men. Early on in X-men #6, Wolverine and Rachel Grey even try to do something about it. But when the future X-men find out that the teenage Beast and Iceman are missing, they suspect their cover is about to be blown. So rather than wait for someone else to expose the truth, they do so under their own terms. This ensures they have the element of surprise, allowing them to strike the X-men before they can fully understand the depths of the deception. They’re like corrupt businessmen who know they’re about to be audited so they take proactive measures when the IRS comes knocking.
Exposing the deception in this issue is not akin to unmasking the monster at the end of an episode of Scooby Doo. The story doesn’t attempt to be shocking, despite a few striking revelations about the identities of a couple of characters. It just attempts to have an impact of a different kind and X-men #6 succeeds in having this impact. The X-men have been deceived and now they have to fight back to regain control of the situation. But it’s like a race where the opponent gets a head start. They face an uphill battle every step of the way and this struggle helps give the story its impact.
Since the beginning of "X-men Battle of the Atom", the story has found multiple ways to make an impact on both the characters and the readers. It has taken the form of interactions between certain characters, events during certain battles, and revelations about certain lies. Some impacts have been more muted than others, but collectively they give this event a level of emotional weight that resonates in a way that goes beyond just another superhero brawl.
What this event has that "Avengers vs. X-men" lacked is context. This isn’t just one group of X-men fighting another. This is a battle between multiple eras of X-men with the future hanging in the balance. The core of the X-men has always been built around a vision for a better future. Now it has gotten to a point where certain factions of the X-men don’t share that vision. And these phony X-men from the future have completely lost sight of it. They are symbolic of a natural consequence of the X-men’s current course of action. What they are doing and have been doing is not consistent with Charles Xavier’s dream and if they keep following this path, then the X-men are just going to fight amongst each other and not against those who hate and fear them.
While the impact in this issue is still strong, the battle that unfolds is somewhat subdued. That’s to be expected to an extent. The phony X-men had the element of surprise on their side and they used that to their full advantage. Because of this, there was nothing too flashy about the battle. There weren’t many parts that would make the cut in a Michael Bay movie, but that didn’t detract from the overall impact. In a sense, the clash that unfolded in this issue was only half a battle. The other half was set up at the end when the real X-men from the future showed up along with their new allies. It made the “To Be Continued” message at the end a bit hollow, but it moved the story forward in the most effective way to date.
Now that the lies and deceptions are being exposed, "X-men Battle of the Atom" is finally establishing the right connections between all the differing elements. Characters that were a mystery are no longer a mystery. Plot holes that made the narrative confusing at times are being filled. Even the roles of certain characters that haven’t been a major part of the story so far, such as Jubilee and Rachel Grey, are starting to find an important place in this story. And for a story that covers multiple eras of X-men, that’s every bit as important any battle involving killer robots or, in Wolverine’s case, evil offspring from the future.
It feels overdue in some ways, but exposing the lies in X-men #6 also gives greater meaning to the previous parts of the story. This helps add to the scope and scale of the story that "Battle of the X-men" is telling. Now it’s actually possible to see the coming showdown and it promises to be epic in a way that will resonate through multiple eras of X-men.